Exploring Egypt: 10 enchanting Christmas and New Year's destinations in your own backyard
The holiday season is almost here. Haven't planned your vacation yet? Don't worry, we have your back. Read on for 10 ideas that cater to the energetic and adventurous; the meditative and those who seek relaxation.
Dust off the time machine and travel back to the fourth century BC; spend your vacation wandering around the magnificent Philae temple complex and Elephantine island which holds the third dynasty Nilometer and the Temple of Khnum.
Wake up every day to the most beautiful Nile views; take a picnic to the Aswan Botanical Gardens.
At night go shopping in the city’s old market for delicious peanuts, doum—a local fruit with a hard crust and soft and chewy interior that can be eaten fresh or boiled, made into a delicious tea or served over ice. You can find dried hibiscus and many other spices, lovely cotton t shirts, traditional dresses and colourful hand-knitted hats.
If you have two more days to spare, take a boat to Nubia and travel back further in time to the land of gold. Nubia is even more peaceful and quiet than Aswan. Here, you can take a boat and explore beautiful unspoiled regions of Nile, take in the magnificent views and go for a swim.
Sofitel Legend Old catacract:
LTI Pyramisa Isis Island Aswan
Nubia: Anakato Nubian houses
Just as Aswan is relaxing — a place for Nile gazing, breathing clean dry air and enjoying the warm breeze — Luxor is energizing, meant for walking and discovering great monuments everywhere in the city.
You will need all your energy and excitement here. Luxor is on the site of ancient Thebes, the pharaoh's capital at the height of their power during the 16-11th centuries BC. This is a real treat for young and old explorers. Get ready to walk through the grand Luxor Temple and the legendary Karnak Temple; the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens on the river banks.
Hilton Luxor resort and spa
Jolie Ville Hotel and spa, kings island
Sofitel winter palace
3 Abu Simbel
This outstanding archeological area contains such monuments as the Great Temple at Abu Simbel and the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae which were saved from the rising waters of the Nile thanks to a UNESCO campaign that worked from 1950 to 1980 to relocate the sites to safer ground.
The Abu Simbel temple complex was originally cut into a solid rock cliff in Southern Egypt, located at the second cataract of the Nile river. Two temples that comprise the site are the Great Temple and the Small Temple, erected during the reign of Ramses II to celebrate his victory over the Hittites in the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE.
A monumental complex engraved in the mountain 320 km south of Aswan, the façade includes 4 giant statues of Ramses II on his throne; the walls of the Great Temple depict scenes from the battle and Egypt's glorious victory.
The second temple is dedicated to Nefertari, Ramses' favourite wife.
The temples were built facing east so that twice a year, on 21 October and 21 February, the sun would shine directly into the sanctuary of the great Temple to illuminate the statues of Ramses and Amun.
The sound and light show
A visit to Abu Simbel is incomplete without attending the sound and light show—the enchantment of which captivated me as a child. The show brings the temple back to life through projections of light on the temples and a recitation of the history of the temples through tales of King Ramses, Queen Nefertari and the great days of our ancestors.
You can skip the hotels, spend your days exploring and your nights on one of the many Nile cruises waiting to take you from Aswan to Luxor or vice versa.
Taking a cruise on the Nile is a time-honoured way to explore Egypt. For centuries, travelers have sailed stretches of the world’s longest river, finding the unexpected sights of river life every bit as thrilling as the tombs and temples on the schedule.
There are so many Nile cruise ships and companies to choose from but here are some of our favourites:
4 Saint Catherine
What could be better than starting your new year with a challenge? Head to Sinai to climb Egypt’s highest mountain: Mount Catherine which stands at 2,645 meters above sea level. If you make it up there you are in for spectacular views and a rare moment of reverence.
It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tip: Watch the sunrise on top of the mountain. This means you will climb at night so dress warmly, pack a blanket; it’s freezing on the summit
Spend a couple of nights at one of the eco-lodges in the mountain, or hike the less challenging Mount Moussa. Take a day to explore Saint Catherine's Monastery and the nearby town in South Sinai.
5 Ras Mohammed
If you want to spend this vacation in a serene place, if you want to dance to the sounds of sea waves and the light of millions of stars then this protectorate in Sinai between Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh is the answer you're seeking.
For more on camping in Ras Mohammed visit: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/246633.aspx
6 Sharm El-Sheikh
Stunning beaches, diverse marine life and stretches of coral reef make Sharm El Sheikh a magnet for divers, eco-tourists, or simply those who appreciate beauty and want to unwind.
Here you can lounge on the beaches, work on your tan and enjoy the temperate water of the Red Sea— and yes you can swim in December. The days are warm and the nights are brisk.
For those seeking a party at night, check Le Pacha bar, Budha bar, Hard Rock Café, Monty's bar, the Half Crown and many more. They all have new year’s parties and many hotel restaurants put on a special Christmas dinner.
The Red Sea paradise of El-Gouna lies on the coast, around 500 kilometres south of Cairo. Just 20 kilometres north of Hurghada; the resort was developed in the 1990s by Egyptian business tycoon Samih Sawiris through Orascom Hotels and Development.
El-Gouna specialises in watersports, including scuba-diving, windsurfing, kite-surfing, waterskiing, parasailing and snorkeling.
There are two main beaches: Zeytuna Beach, located on its own island, and Mangroovy Beach. A network of canals dotted with pretty stone bridges allows many houses to have their own strip of beach, even hundreds of metres inland. In fact, the scenic island is so picturesque it has been dubbed “the Egyptian Riviera.”
There are three centralised areas in El-Gouna, housing shops, bars and restaurants: Downtown, Tamr Henna Square and Abu Tig Marina.
You can choose your accommodation from one of El-Gouna's 18 hotels with nearly 3,000 rooms rated from three to five stars. Price ranges from EGP 500 to EGP 1500 per night, depending on location and holiday season.
If you're after some luxury this vacation, the five-star Movenpick and Sheraton Miramor both have their own private beaches and swimming pools, while the Steigenberger Hotel offers several swimming pools and lagoons.
For something a bit more wallet-friendly, take a look at the smaller three-star hotels in the heart of the resort's downtown area. You can get around in tuk-tuks manned by friendly drivers, or even by speedboat.
You can also choose to stay in the most attractive area, the marina, which hosts El-Gouna's luxury yachts. Here you'll find access to the open beach; you can buy a ticket for EGP 100 and enjoy an umbrella, a sunbed and swim as much as you like. There's a restaurant, bar and café on the beach and at night the marina sometimes hosts live music.
El Gouna also has public beaches like Element where you can sip bedouin tea and coffee and enjoy nature, in an unspoiled natural setting.
You can enjoy a boat trip to one of the most beautiful islands in Egypt: Mahmya Island. There are two daily trips from the port in Hurghada, one leaving at 8:30 am and the other at 10 am. Boats return at sunset. If you're lucky, you can spot schools of dolphins playing in the water on your way to this lovely spot.
A day-trip to Mahmya costs EGP 250, and children under 6 travel for free. That price includes the boat ride both ways, snorkeling equipment, life jackets, sun beds and umbrellas.
Once on the island you can enjoy the crystal clear water, which is shallow enough for both adults and youngsters to swim and snorkel safely. There are also restaurants, cafes and bars and even a fish tank spa on the beach, which combine to make for an unforgettable day.
For Mahmya booking day trips call 002 01001119792.
Overall El-Gouna is a real treat for friends, families and couples.
The resort can be reached by bus, car, or by flying directly to Hurghada airport.
Hotels and vacation rentals could be booked through the friendly website of http://www.elgouna.com
Other attractions and activities around town include a small aquarium which the little ones will love, a go-kart track, paintball arena, tennis courts, stables and a football stadium.
There are a few things that you can only do in Siwa, like spending an exciting day on desert safari or taking a dip in cold and hot water springs, both found in the middle of the desert and surrounded by palm trees. Safaris end in style, watching the sun set in the desert while drinking strong Siwan tea with lemon grass or cinnamon.
You can feel the weightlessness and freedom of swimming in salt lakes—from which salt is also extracted—or bring home crystals of salt, said to absorb negative energy when kept in the home.
A dip in one of the 200 or more natural sulphur springs including Fatnas or Cleopatra Springs is traditional, and tasting the local dates is not to be missed.
At the end of the day you can watch the sun set over one of the crystal clear lakes and feed the fish. Believe it or not, fish like dates as well!
More on Siwa here: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/246616.aspx
9 White or Western Desert
The white Desert is the most popular desert destination in Egypt. The unearthly wind-carved rock formations shaped in the form of giant mushrooms and pebbles is stunning. Farafra Oasis is a 300 kilometre drive from Bahriya protectorate. You can do both Farafra and Bahariya and enjoy an unforgettable journey into the infinite whiteness.
If you don't feel like camping under the stars, you can spend your nights here: http://www.badawiya.com/farafra.htm
10 Fayoum Tunis village
If you want a simple, relaxing vacation with stunning views of Lake Qarun and the countryside, this is your destination.
The small village is mostly inhabited by artists and writers. You walk through the village and all you can see are small art galleries and pottery workshops, with the loveliest array of serving plates, dishes, cups, mirrors and more on display, each piece finely drawn and crafted by hand.
The air is clean and the atmosphere very quiet, serene and just relaxing. Beyond the pottery you see green fields, farm animals and the beautiful lake.
At night the sky is clear, hundreds of stars light your way and bats fly from tree to tree.
More on Tunis village here: http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/248540.aspx
-- Sent from my Linux system.